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Beer with a bang
A classic Canadian beer story



Laleh Behjat
August 26, 2005

Tina walked out of terminal three at Pearson airport. The December wind blew in her hair and sent it flying. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and savored the moment. She looked up; the sky seemed bluer than anything she had ever seen, the air fresher than the morning air in the mountains, and the people were the happiest and the most beautiful people that have ever lived. Even the concrete she was standing on looked like the marble of the Taj Mahal to her. She had her wishes come true. She was Canadian, almost.

The airport shuttle stopped in front of her. She proudly entered the bus and sat in the front row. No more getting in the bus from a back door. No more ladies at the back. I might even talk to a person of the opposite sex. What a sin! I will go to hell... Hell! Much better than heaven where all the mollas and Ayatollahs will be. She looked around; the only other passenger on the bus was a man sitting behind her. He is no Brad Pitt, but still he is of the opposite sex.

“Good morning, I mean good afternoon. I come from Iran, where do you come from?” Tina asked. The guy turned around, closed his eyes and started snoring.

Tina looked at the guy for a few more minutes hoping that he would wake up; nothing, not even a little bit of movement. I must look awful after the flight. She took her hand mirror out of her bag and looked at her face. Her eyes were red and she looked tired, but nothing terrible. She glanced at her shirt and pants. All wrinkled! Glad I don’t have to wear that shapeless dress, “the uniform”, anymore, I can actually see the shape of my legs. She remembered the day she had gone to get her passport.

“You can’t go in like that.” The female guard at the female entrance had shouted at her.

“Why not? I have no makeup,” Tina had said looking at the guard’s face. That had proven to be a big mistake. She should have known better. It was rule number one: ‘In order to pass guards you have to make them feel you are afraid of them and never, ever look them in the eye.’ But the guard that day had a really bad case of aesthetic ignorance, which made it impossible for Tina to take her eyes off her moustache.

“Your legs!” the guard barked.

“What about them? I am wearing pants under my uniform,” Tina said.

“Your pants are too tight, so your legs ... They look like legs.”

“But they are legs,” Tina said ignoring rule number two: ‘Never answer back, always apologize.’

And your moustache! It does look like a moustache. Tina thought “Go home, wear something decent. Something that does not make men stare at you.”

There was going to be no more nonsense like that.

She had flown away.

“You said 55 King Street?” the driver asked.

“Yes, that is correct. It is the university’s graduate residence.” Tina said. The days of oppression are over. I have come from Revolution Street in Tehran, to King Street in Canada ... such a wonderful journey. Now I’ll be able to wear what I want to wear, drink what I want to drink, watch all those great Hollywood movies and walk with whomever I want to. I’ll even be free to fall in love. I’m going to celebrate, buy myself a drink, make a toast, drink the poison and go to hell.

She got to the dormitory, got the keys from the manager and found her room; a little room with a single bed, a desk, a chair and a small dresser, her home away from home. But it didn’t feel like home. She took the Persian rug out of her suitcase and put it on the floor, a little reminder of her country. She lay in the bed and closed her eyes.

When she woke up it was already dark. She looked at her watch: nine o’clock. Too early to phone home, I’ll go get my beer first. This was the ultimate test of her freedom: To be able to drink, in public, with no fear. She was going to get drunk on her first night in the land of the free.

No more aragh-sagi. That's good for dogs. No more homemade wine or Vishnyovka. Even though I really like the cherry flavored one, but no more. I’m in the land of opportunity, not old traditions and smuggled alcohol. Tina smiled.

Tina knew exactly what she would order: A beer. In all the smuggled movies and TV series she had illegally watched on the VCR, happy people had beer. The only exception was James Bond and his martinis, but James Bond was old fashioned. Also, her previous adventures in making beer had ended in disaster: once the beer had become moldy, the next time the beer went sour and the last time the house where the beer was stored in was raided, so all the beer was lost. The black market beer was too expensive for her budget: caviar was cheaper. Tonight, she would celebrate with a beer, cheers.

She had seen a little bar on the other side of road. Where the hell is my scarf? Tina looked around. I don’t need a scarf anymore. She smiled and left her room.

Two minutes later she was back in. Shit! It’s freezing cold. Where is my hat? Tina found her hat and her coat in her suitcase. Glad I bought this coat. It is long and will cover my legs. I can’t believe how cold it is. She looked for a few more minutes in her suitcase and found a scarf. She wrapped the scarf around her neck and face and left.

On her way to the bar, Tina saw a police car pulling over other cars. She could feel the shivers going down her spine. The sight of police always put her in panic mode. During her life, she had smuggled more than ten thousand lashes worth of alcohol to and from friends’ houses. Relax! you are in Canada. Why would the police care if anyone is going to drink or is drunk?

The bar she had spotted was actually an Eastside Mario’s restaurant: A family restaurant with a little bar. Nothing like Cheers, but it’ll do for tonight. The bartender was around forty and was going bald. His beer belly showed that he was obviously not an athlete. Tina sat on the stool in the bar and looked at all the bottles in front of her.

“What you want?” The bartender asked.

“A beer please,” Tina said with pride in her voice.

“Dark or light?” The bartender asked quickly.

“Excuse me? I do not want Dakolite, I just want beer,” Tina replied.

“Do you have any ID? Driver’s license?” he asked her.

“Why would you want my ID? I am 22.” Tina was getting annoyed. She had just got off the plane. How could she produce a driver’s license?

“No Driver’s license, no beer,” the bar tender said, serving another customer.

I haven’t traveled half the world not to have a beer. No way, I’m going back to that frozen hell without some alcohol in my blood. She took out her Iranian driver’s license and showed it to the bartender.

“What’s this?” The bartender said.

“My driver’s license. It is in Persian; a two thousand five hundred year old language and it says that I was born in 1353. Look here is a 1, a 3 a 5 and another 3 and in your calendar that is 1974... and, oh, that picture, it is really me. I just had to wear the scarf when I got out of the house. But I have drank before.”

The bartender looked at her for a while, then without saying another word he opened up a can and poured it in a glass. The dark beer filled half of the glass; the rest of it was foam. Tina took the glass in her hand, and drank it in one long swallow. She put it back on the counter with a bang. This is for the friends I left behind.

Tina got back to her apartment an hour later all alone. She took a pen and paper and started writing home:

My dearest Tara,

Today was my first day in Canada. I wish you were here as well. We would have had so much fun. I went to a bar, very cool. The bartender looked like Tom Cruise in cocktail. You would have liked him; he was very jeegar. I had a mug of beer. It was called root beer. It tastes great; you can’t even believe there is much alcohol in it.

Tina looked out of the window. Inside its little frame was Capricorn, half goat half fish, swimming in the dark black sky. The dark sky was the same velvet navy color as the one she had stared at for so many nights back home.

For letters section
To Laleh Behjat



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Stories From Iran
A Chicago Anthology 1921-1991
edited by Heshmat Moayyad

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